Lamar Jackson has never fit the prototypical mold for the NFL. And on the surface, he’s never fit the mold of a typical Ravens player.
When Jackson was drafted by the Ravens in 2018, he joined an organization that for long had needed an offensive spark for the entirety of the franchise.
Since the Ravens moved to Baltimore in 1996, and before Jackson arrived, they ranked in the top 10 of the NFL in points six times. They also ranked in the top 10 in yards just three times — the first two years of the franchise’s existence — and once again in 2018 when Jackson started seven games.
Baltimore’s two best offensive players since the creation of the franchise are offensive linemen and, for the most part, the organization has been carried by its defensive prowess.
In fairness to previous offensive teams, and former quarterback Joe Flacco, it’s difficult to rise above the statuses of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs. Still, the Ravens were never known as an offensive team. Then, Jackson arrived.
The story of Jackson’s MVP season has been told repeatedly, but his first full season as a starter was one of the most remarkable seasons by a quarterback in league history. He rushed for 1,206 yards, the most ever for a quarterback, and threw for 3,127 yards and a league-best 36 touchdowns. The Ravens went 14-2 as Jackson became the second-ever unanimous league MVP.
Jackson’s presence changed the way the game was played, discussed and strategized as the Ravens broke the mold for the way the game was trending for decades.
Advanced statistics and a better understanding of how first downs, and points, are gained have shifted the game more and more away from run-centered offenses. Jackson and the Ravens rushed the ball more efficiently than some teams threw the ball in 2019, en route to the most rushing yards by an NFL team in league history.
Not only is Jackson a better thrower than he was at the outset of his career, and from the outset of the 2019 season, he also played in space better than nearly anyone in the NFL. He averaged 4.9 yards before contact last season — 1.4 yards above second-place Raheem Mostert. He created plays not out of some desperate attempt to make something out of nothing, but rather got himself in the open and made defenses look silly.
The biggest lesson from Jackson and the Ravens’ 2019 season, however, isn’t that each team should be in a frantic search for the next Lamar Jackson. Rather, it’s about drafting and acquiring the best potential players possible and giving them the freedom to make plays happen on their own.
In that regard, Jackson is a stark contrast from the pocket-passing styles of Flacco, Kyle Boller and the previous 22 quarterbacks who’ve thrown a regular-season pass for the Ravens.
The way Jackson changed the game, though, at least for 2019, isn’t dissimilar to the way Lewis and Reed and so many defensive greats for the Ravens patrolled the field. They changed the way offenses had to play the game and created mismatches in the front seven or secondary that other teams couldn’t account for.
With Lewis and Reed enshrined in Canton, and Suggs potentially on the way in a few years, Jackson has a long way to go before he’s mentioned in the same breath as those three. Through the first two years of his career, though, he’s off to a good start.
By all signs, Jackson will continue to change the way the game — and the Ravens — are viewed across the NFL and sports as a whole.
How he’s changing the game, though, is only different in style.
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